Bankruptcy was ‘tumultuous time,’ mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones says

From the St. Louis Business Journal

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Mayoral candidate and city of St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones on Monday expanded on her past financial problems after the Business Journal reported Sunday that she filed bankruptcy and faced a state tax lien in 1999.

“That was a pretty tumultuous time for me,” Jones said in an interview. She said her father, former St. Louis Comptroller Virvus Jones, had just gotten out of prison and that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

At the same time, Jones said, she accumulated a lot of debt after a restaurant she co-owned, Sugar’s Place, at Washington and North Euclid avenues, failed. It was open about a year, and Jones was in her mid-20s, she said.

“Like many bright-eyed and naive business owners, most businesses fail within their first year,” Jones said. “That wasn’t our anticipation, obviously.

“I’m an only child, so it falls upon me to take care of my father’s affairs while he was away and to take care of my mother,” Jones said. Virvus Jones in 1995 was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to two counts of felony tax fraud.

“That was the only way,” Jones said of the bankruptcy. “I was in tons of debt, and I had to make a choice: What’s more important here? Taking care of my mother in her last days, or what? So I don’t think that the choice I made would be much different than any other person in the same circumstances.”

Jones said it took years to rebuild her life; the $ 14,159 state tax lien, for example, was released in January 2003.

“It was a process,” Jones said. “I had to put myself on a budget and make sure that I paid my bills on time and that my credit was in order as well. I had to make sure that whatever credit cards I took out, that I paid those on time to establish a good payment history. And I became a hawk at checking my credit report, making sure everything was correct, and if it wasn’t, I taught myself the process of writing to the credit bureaus to get it corrected.” Jones said she’s purchased two homes since then, and her credit score is in the high 700s.

Jones, first elected treasurer in 2012 and re-elected in November last year, said her experience led her to create the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment, which, in partnership with banks and credit unions, gave classes to 1,200 people in the last fiscal year. The topics all involve finances.

“Because of that experience and getting into this office, I saw that as an opportunity to help people who had fallen in to the same circumstances or to prevent them from falling into those circumstances,” Jones said. “So we provide second chances in this office.”

She said she would like to expand that effort outside City Hall if she becomes mayor and said she’s working with Mayor Francis Slay’s office to make St. Louis a member of Cities for Financial Empowerment. Its members meet to discuss initiatives that empower families financially.

Jones also touted her effort to move all city employees to direct deposit. She said when she took office, 800 city employees did not have a bank account. Now, just 300 have their benefits assigned to a pay card, which the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. counts as “banked,” according to Jones. The other 500 transitioned to mainstream financial services, Jones said.

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